John Simon

John Simon
Peter North

Critic John Simon ’46, Ph.D. ’59, celebrated for his acerbic reviews in New York magazine—“For better or for worse, I think of myself as a highbrow”—visited Cambridge in December to discuss three recently published volumes of his collected criticism, on theater, film, and music (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books). Here are some of his remarks, made during a presentation at the Harvard Coop:

“If you like eight out of 10 things that you have to review, then you are not a critic. Then you should work for the Salvation Army.”

“The ‘death seat’ is the seat next to the critic, the person who gets dragged to the theater with the critic and doesn’t get the satisfaction of getting even with the damn thing afterward.”

“Even ferocious writing is a love of writing.”

“I think it is good for a writer to be in love a lot, which I was.”

“I am very grateful—very grateful—that I started out in life as a poet.”

“In the Balkans, we’re tough cookies. We don’t have thin skins and we don’t try to be nice to everyone.”

“I think the critic has to do the teacher’s job. He has to keep teaching. Since most students, let’s face it, are ordinary students, it is very important for teachers to be good for ordinary students.”

“Sondheim still stands out as a peak over the hills and valleys of the rest.”

“Everybody needs to be a critic, since the world is such a mess.”

“I think there’s always one good movie out of 200, and if you happen to see the one without seeing the other 199, then you are ahead of the game.”

“Actors have to take their lumps, and if critics are their lumps, then that’s how it is.”

You might also like

The Roman Empire’s Cosmopolitan Frontier

Genetic analysis reveals a culture enriched from both sides of the Danube.

Tobacco Smoke and Tuberculosis

Harvard researchers illuminate a longstanding epidemiological connection. 

Discourse and Discipline

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences broaches two tough topics.

Most popular

Small-Town Roots

Professors’ humble beginnings, concentration choices, and a mini history of Harvard and Radcliffe presidents

Vita: Fanny Bullock Workman

Brief life of a feisty mountaineer: 1859-1925

Being Black at Work

Realizing the full potential of black employees

More to explore

Illustration of a box containing a laid-off fossil fuel worker's office belongings

Preparing for the Energy Transition

Expect massive job losses in industries associated with fossil fuels. The time to get ready is now.

Apollonia Poilâne standing in front of rows of fresh-baked loaves at her family's flagship bakery

Her Bread and Butter

A third-generation French baker on legacy loaves and the "magic" of baking

Illustration that plays on the grade A+ and the term Ai

AI in the Academy

Generative AI can enhance teaching and learning but augurs a shift to oral forms of student assessment.